Navigate Summer Camp Options for Teens

Kelsey Sheehy

Summer camp options abound for high school students, but narrowing thousands of programs down to the best fit for your teen can be challenging.

Instead of standard sleep-away camps that combine hiking, crafts, swimming and campfires, parents and teens can now choose from robotics camp, band camp, leadership camp, math camp - even whale camp.

Parents must also work out whether their teen will attend camp close to home, across the country or overseas, and choose what length of program they feel most comfortable with.

[Find tips to engage your teen in summer learning.]

Making this decision means engaging your teen every step of the way, says Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association.

Talk to your son or daughter about what he or she wants to accomplish over the summer. Do they want to up their tennis game, master a foreign language or simply reconnect with friends?

Establishing a goal can help parents and students map out a plan for the summer, which could include a mix of short specialty camps.

"Kids like to collect a menu of opportunities," says Smith, adding that teens can bundle one week at computer camp with two at their regular camp.

For teenagers, crucial components to look for in any camp are opportunities to develop skills such as leadership, teamwork, communication and problem solving, which will help the student succeed after high school, she says.

"See [camps] as internships for college," Smith says. "These are really important skills that students have to have to be able to navigate the world."

[Get your teen ready for summer college prep programs.]

Looking at camps through that lens can help parents identify programs appropriate for teens, but they should still go beyond the brochures and actually talk to counselors to determine if the camp can help their teen meet summer goals.

'Some kids go to tennis camp and they just want to play tennis. Their expectations are just to have fun," she says. "Some kids go to tennis camp and they are driven. They're there to really improve their game."

The training and professional experience of counselors is particularly important in specialty programs, because while an 18-year-old counselor may be great at general craft lessons, they likely lack the expertise to teach advanced robotics.

Parents and teens can get additional insight into a program by talking to former campers to find out what they did and didn't like about the program, experts say. Camp administrators typically point parents to happy campers, but teens can get an unfiltered view by searching through blogs and social media.

Visiting a camp in person can also show parents whether the program truly provides a positive experience, Bette Bussel, executive director of the American Camp Association, New England, told the Boston Globe magazine.

"You just walk in and get a sense of it," she said. "You can get an idea from the Web, but there's still nothing like seeing it in action."